Friday, 7 May 2010

TWELVE HOURS OF FREEDOM WHILE WALKING MILES FOR MILLIONS


The following text is taken from my book, Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School). This was not only my first taste of activism but I was allowed to walk the streets of Vancouver without intense government supervision. Here's how I spent May fourth, 1968 and what the experience taught me.

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The Miles For Millions campaign, an effort by the Canadian government to raise money for Third World victims of famine, was held on the first weekend of May. Our teachers and supervisors encouraged everybody to secure pledges and walk the twenty-five-mile route. It seemed an impossibly long distance to travel on foot but our supervisor assured us that we would survive.

Mr. Moiarty drove us in the school's bus to the armoury, a large, whitewashed gym-like building after breakfast. Volunteers gave each marcher the route on a paper. Blind students were paired with those with partial vision. The march had no official starting time. Participants merely set off in the direction indicated by the route map. Since the print was far too small for me to read, I followed the crowd while listening to Mom's radio.

For the first time in Vancouver, I savoured twelve blissful hours of freedom from supervisors, teachers, and bullies. The day was warm and sunlit, adding to the euphoria of my adventure. As with the car rallies, I needed to go to each post along the march to get my paper marked, proving that I indeed had travelled the route.

During the afternoon, extreme weariness came over me. I sat on the curb with my chin in my hands. "I just need to rest a bit," I thought. Mr. Moiarty drove the school bus along the route. When he saw me, he hollered out of the window, "Do you want to quit, Bruce? We can take you back to the dorm, you know." "I want to go the whole way," I insisted. The bus pulled away, carrying those boys who were unable to complete the walk. Geoffrey told me later that I looked pathetic, "just sitting there like that."

At one point, I nearly became lost. Two groups of pedestrians stood at a corner. I carefully studied both of them, unsure which were walkers and which were on personal business. With my usual knack for making mistakes, I chose the wrong crowd. Half a block later, I noticed that I was suddenly alone. Panic fought with reason for a few seconds before I realized that I could easily retrace my steps and go down the right avenue. Later, I foolishly told Charlie what happened. "Atchison! How could you be so idiotic,?" he scorned. "I couldn't help it. There were two groups of people and I didn't know which were marchers and which weren't," I explained. Charlie did not tease me about it but the story of my blunder circulated around the dorm.

Finally, at twilight, I crossed the twenty-five-mile mark back at the armoury. I had never been so eager to climb into bed. Though my legs were sore for days afterwards, the walk was worth every step.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback, containing 6 black and white photos, sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped InScribe writers group website. E-mail me for further information or if you don't have PayPal but still wish to place an order.